In a bustling suburb of Bombay, lives a jovial girl called Mili who was named so because she liked to play Hide n Seek and people used to look for her saying ‘Mili??’ ( loosely translated as was she found?). A fun-loving girl who loves to bring the families together on the building rooftop for their routine events. While the movie presents her as a cheerful person, the perfect foil to her comes as Shekhar, the new entrant in the housing society. A brooding, tall and handsome fellow immediately has the housing society member’s attention which oscillates between wonder to hatred. A man with a scandalized past is how he’s known to others. As it usually happens, opposites attract and soon they fall for each other. But there is one problem. Mili suffers from a terminal disease and probably has days to survive. Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s ‘Mili’ (1975) is a film that transcends boundaries to talk about a love that is ethereal.
Just like the apartment in the film, the story has multiple layers that the filmmaker subtly discusses in the film. It speaks of an upper-middle-class society where the residents live in a superficial world. Just like any other average joe, they also like to indulge in gossip. It’s evident from the part where the residents engross themselves about Shekhar’s deceased mother who was killed by his father suspecting adultery. This makes Shekhar permanently scarred and as a result, he tends to keep himself away from the limelight. Mili who comes as a person, who tries to live for the moment as she does not have time by her side, due to her disease. While the rest of the people form a distasteful opinion about Shekhar, the couple slowly develops feelings during their many stargazing sessions. Another subplot of the movie is the building secretary Runa, played by Aruna Irani. Somehow different from her usual fare of routine dancer and vamp roles, she gets a meatier role. Bitter due to her past relationships, she comes across as a stern person. Though she dresses provocatively, she does not shy from giving a piece of her mind to Shekhar when he complains about the children. Later, when Shekhar is heartbroken knowing about Mili’s deteriorating condition and wants to leave, Runa slams him for running away like a coward. In a melee of people disguised as so-called intellectuals, she’s the one without any garb of deceit.
Starring in the lead roles, Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bachchan play the star-crossed lovers Shekhar and Mili. For Amitabh Bachchan, the role of Shekhar became a landmark in his career, as this was one of his earliest attempts to play a doomed man. One must remember, ‘Mili’ had released in a year that also had ‘Sholay’, ‘Deewar’ and ‘Chupke Chupke’ in each of which Amitabh had played some fantastic roles. Compared to these films, ‘Mili’ was an average grosser and did not have the crowd-pulling ‘Amitabh Persona’. Yet ‘Mili’ has stood the test of time, as Amitabh’s one of the better-acted films. As the brooding and self-destructing Shekhar, he passed the litmus test of an actor with varying range. Jaya Bachchan as the titular character does really well as the chirpy girl, who despite living her last few days, makes everyone hale and hearty around her. If one must compare, the character of Mili has an uncanny resemblance with Radha from ‘Sholay’, especially the part when Thakur Baldev Singh meets her for the first time. In the ensemble cast, Ashok Kumar and Aruna Irani do really well.
Sachin Dev Burman’s Music plays a big role here. The haunting melodies of ‘Badi Sooni Sooni Hai’ and ‘Aye Tum Yaad Mujhe’ perfectly describe Shekhar’s bitterness with life and longing for someone. While describing his loneliness, the songs also create an aura of a mysterious man making Mili fall for him. Incidentally, ‘Mili’ became the last film for SD Burman, who passed away shortly. His son RD Burman had assisted him in music direction. It’s a glorious mistake that a film like ‘Mili’ is never discussed at lengths with the likes of other great movies of Mr.Hrishikesh Mukherjee. One of the finest acts of Mr.Amitabh Bachchan, ably supported by Ms.Jaya Bachchan and a subtle story with multiple layers, ‘Mili’ is way ahead of its time. It’s a pity that it never got its due recognition in time.